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Thursday, October 21, 2021

CalPIRG pushing textbook alternatives

With the average college student spending $900 on textbooks annually, CalPIRG is working to bring cost-reducing options to campus.

CalPIRG, a student activist organization, and the UC Davis Bookstore teamed up to start a textbook rental program this fall. Students pay to rent a textbook for one term and return it the last day of that term’s final exams.

Members of CalPIRG hope that with popularity, the rental program can expand next quarter.

“Overall we are really happy with the rental program, but we want to make sure it’s more accessible for all students and all textbooks,” said Erin Mellon, CalPIRG UC Davis campus organizer.

There are 275 textbook titles available to rent this fall and the bookstore hopes to have at least 500 titles for winter, said Jason Lorgan, UC Davis Bookstore book department manager, in an e-mail interview.

Titles were chosen based on their ability to be resold into the national used textbook market. To determine a book’s rental price, the bookstore subtracts the title’s wholesale market price from its retail price.

The benefits of renting are that the title has a lower upfront cost and there is no risk in the buyback value. However, it is possible that renting could cost a student more than buying a book and selling it back, Lorgan said.

“Our goal is to present both options and let each student decide what is best for them,” he said.

When possible, the bookstore tries to offer new, used, rental and digital versions of textbooks, Lorgan said.

In addition to renting, CalPIRG encourages the use of open source textbooks, which are texts licensed under terms that make them available online for free.

Manny Rin, CalPIRG UC Davis chapter chair, said CalPIRG members talked to approximately 30 to 40 professors and department heads about textbook costs and cheaper options, such as open resources online.

“They were in the students’ favor,” Rin said. “They all would definitely choose the cheaper textbook if that resource was given to them.”

Student PIRGs released a report on Thursday stating that textbook rentals, e-books and e-readers are only short-term remedies to make textbooks more affordable. However, open textbooks can be a long-term solution due to its adaptability. The report is based on a survey of 1,428 students from 10 different campuses and 100 common college textbooks.

According to the study, 75 percent of students prefer print rather than digital textbooks, which rules out e-books and e-readers as long-term solutions for textbook affordability.

The campus bookstore has been selling e-books for five years, with 165 titles available digitally this quarter.

“While e-books are priced at about 40 percent less than new print copies, UC Davis students have been slow to accept digital versions of textbooks,” Lorgan said.

Over the last academic year, the bookstore sold roughly 300 digital copies compared to 300,000 print copies.

The Student PIRGs study argues that rentals are also inadequate because they don’t work for everyone – 34 percent of students said they would rent all of their textbooks. However, 93 percent said they would rent some of them.

Open textbooks, which are available online, as PDFs and in print, could reduce the average cost of textbooks by 80 percent – from $900 to 184 per year.

Meanwhile, rentals, e-books and e-readers could reduce the average cost of textbooks by 34 percent – from $900 to 598 per year.

Last year, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Open College Textbook Act. If enacted it would create a competitive grant program for institutions of higher education and professors to write open textbooks.

“It is time we use the potential of technology to improve college access, learning and affordability for all students,” Durbin said in a statement.

ASUCD Senator Liz Walz worked on CalPIRG’s Textbook Affordability Campaign and talked to many faculty members about open textbooks. She said that it is currently hard to ask professors to write new textbooks so they can be put online. She finds online wikis to be a better approach to tackle the problem of expensive textbooks.

Chemistry professor Delmar Larson created ChemWiki almost two years ago to provide free, online resources for students. Faculty members and students undergo a comprehensive process to create modules for peers.

“This is hopefully the direction where online textbooks will be going,” Walz said.

JANELLE BITKER can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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